Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Half Empty

I heard another very striking interview on Terri Gross' Fresh Air last week.

She does fabulous interviews. I don't always enjoy her subjects. She seems to have a fascination with newly dead or dying country/blues musicians (not ShaniaTwainCountry, but WalktheLine Country). I'm not into that, so often skip them. And, in my humble opinion, she has way overharped on the Bush-dragged-us-into-this-war-and-he-lied-a-lot topic over the last few years. I don't listen to most of her interviews.

But when I like her subject matter, she does a great interview. In this case, maybe too good. I found her interview with David Rakoff amazing and affirming for me. So amazing and affirming that I immediately went home and bought the audio version of his new book of essays, which I feel lukewarm about as a composite. Terri did such a good job covering the best essays of the book that the 15 minutes about the Tomorrow House at Epcot just didn't float my boat in comparison to how the author feels about his second primary cancer before the age of 50.

David Rakoff is a gifted satirist, equal parts comic (generally deprecating, self or otherwise) and cynic. The cynic is the part I like and identify with, I guess. (Disclosure: I also appear to have a predilection for gay, Jewish men? Not sure what to say about that....) I'd never heard of him before. He's apparently frequently appears on PRI's radio show This American Life, in addition to his writing for magazines and his own published books of essays.

Their interview covered his feelings about cancer, about death, and the anarchic disregard that the universe has for all things human. It was more than music to my ears. It's what I've been looking for, someone else who thinks like me. Why is that so validating? I don't know, but it was. I found myself wanting to text IKR* to him with every new sentence of the interview.

Does it bother me that talk about cancer, death and anarchic disregard is what I've been craving? Maybe.

I'll include a couple paragraphs from the interview about his newly released book, Half Empty, posted on the NPR website.

"Writer Melissa Bank said it best: 'The only proper answer to 'Why me?' is 'Why not you?' The universe is anarchic and doesn't care about us and unfortunately, there's no greater rhyme or reason as to why it would be me. And since there is no answer as to why me, it's not a question I feel really entitled to ask. And in so many other ways, I'm so far ahead of the game. I have access to great medical care. My general baseline health, aside from the general unpleasantness of the cancer, is great. And it's great because I'm privileged to have great health. And I live in a country where I'm not making sneakers for a living and I don't live near a toxic waste dump. You can't win all the contests and then lose at one contest and say 'Why am I not winning this contest as well?' It's random. So truthfully, again, do I wish it weren't me? Absolutely. I still can't make that logistic jump to thinking there's a reason why it shouldn't be me."

This is EXACTLY what is in my head most days. I've won every contest but one. Granted, it was a fricking big one. But still...

I continue to struggle with this on a daily basis. Of course, it's "Why Henry?", not "why me?", and Henry obviously lost his own biggest contest. But those who loved him continue to carry his life and death with us every day. Every contest but one. I want to learn to embrace my grief, to accept it as part of me and move on. I need to stop trying to flee from it. It's part of my game, like playing basketball with a broken wrist. I'm still playing. And it's worth it to keep going.

Mr. Rakoff, you interview too well. It made your book somewhat superfluous. But as someone searching for as many kindred spirits as I can find, I thank you.

*IKR For those of you without pre-teens, it's "I Know, Right?".


SOCKS said...

Thanks for the post-script. I had no clue.

radioactive girl said...

I knew exactly what IKR meant. My daughter uses it so much that it has become something I say as well.

And as for the why not me question, I agree. I always think no one deserves any of the bad health stuff and no one ever promised me a perfect healthy life so why wouldn't I be dealt a kind of crappy hand sometimes. It's part of life. Struggle brings growth. But it doesn't mean I (and you) can't be angry about it sometimes...and maybe even a lot of times.

rlbates said...

I'm with Socks, I had no clue what IKR meant. :)

I, too, enjoyed the Rakoff interview.

M.M. said...

Just know that gay Jewish men are also into reading your blog. ;)

Heather said...

I heard that same interview, and I sat in the parking lot at Costco listening to it instead of getting out of my car. The minute he explained the 'why not' theory, it clicked with me too. I'd always wondered why I felt a certain way about both successes and failures/losses. He managed to sum it up beautifully.

Oh, and thanks for the translation. I didn't know what IKR meant.

Karen said...

Christopher Hitchens expresses the same sort of philosohpy in his Vanity Fair article about his recent and ongoing experiences with metastasized esophageal cancer.

Anonymous said...

Dr Smak,'have you ever read some of John Diamond (Nigella's first husband). He's not gay, but is/was Jewish and died of cancer quite young. He was a non-practicing Jew and had a fairly similar view of life/death to this author. Also a very funny man.